The Symbolic Politics of Olympic Cheating Scandals: Representing International Tensions in Sport

By Sara K. Straub and Jerry Overton.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Proxies for international conflict between major powers took on a new importance with the development of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II. Symbolic conflict also took on new importance and sporting conflict drew considerable attention. Following the Cold War, new international tensions have emerged, particularly between the United States and China, and these new tensions are subtly different than those of that era. Cold War tensions were essentially political but tensions between the U.S. and China are as much economic as political. How have these new types of tensions been expressed symbolically in the representation of international sport? To explore this issue, we consider U.S. media coverage (New York Times and Sports Illustrated) of two widely reported cases of alleged cheating during the Olympic Games: the 1976 East German women's swim team and the 2008 Chinese women's gymnastics team. We postulate that the accusations were linked to ongoing international tensions. Our analysis is guided by two questions: 1. How is international conflict between the United States and a major power rival represented in coverage of international sporting competition? 2. Are there differences in representations of economic conflict between the United States and a rival nation and political conflict between the United States and a rival nation? Our research draws upon and speaks to Edelman's concept of symbolic politics. It also expands current research on the role of sport in the representation of nations.

Keywords: International Competition, Symbolic Politics, Sports Scandals, Media Proxy

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.65-78. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 316.758KB).

Sara K. Straub

Department of Communication, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA

Sara K. Straub is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interest is sports communication with an emphasis on the relationship and role between the media and sports. Sara has presented several papers at the National Communication Association national convention, including a paper introducing the theoretical framework of her dissertation titled “The Dominican Dream: Major League Baseball and the Media’s Role in the Postcolonial Treatment of Dominican Baseball Players.” Additionally, Sara completed a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender studies, where she has looked at women and gender issues in sports and the media. Sara received her M.A. in Communication from the University of Oklahoma. She was a double major at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky and holds degrees in both Communication Arts and Philosophy and Religion.

Jerry Overton

University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA